120 Drawing Ideas for Beginners to Enjoy Without Giving Up

The purpose of this post is to list drawing ideas for beginners in particular. That’s not to exclude anyone else, but I had three aims.

  • I wanted to suggest ideas that were not insanely boring
  • I didn’t want to patronize anyone with childish nonsense
  • I didn’t want to over challenge anyone, knowing they were likely to fail

That’s why certain subjects are missing. I haven’t included portraits because that’s not beginner material. No one starts with drawing portraits, or if they do, they soon give up.

Nor have I mentioned still life subjects. By that I mean, plates, jugs, glasses, fruit, and veg; you know the kind of thing. I nodded off just writing the sentence. That’s the kind of boring crap that puts you off at school.

And cartoons are missing. You can go too far with simplicity, and quite honestly, I have no interest in Manga and Superhero comic art, not unless it was drawn by John Buscema, but I mustn’t side-track myself.

Most of my drawing ideas are nature-based and for good reason, we are surrounded by natural subjects even in the big city. There are parks, gardens, and zoos in most urban areas, but I’ve included some drawing ideas for urban sketchers too.

Further Reading: How Do Artists Get Their Ideas?

My emphasis on nature is not only because I’m a wildlife illustrator, but also because it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. Drawing nature is forgiving. You don’t have to get everything right every time.

120 Drawing Ideas for Beginners

Some of these drawing ideas and exercises are easy, while others are more challenging. It depends on your level of skill at this moment in time. You’ll find a few drawing ideas amongst them whatever stage you are at.

Further Reading: How Do You Learn To Draw?

This list is for inspiration if you’ve run out of drawing ideas and all you can see is an empty page. Read through the list and cherry-pick a few ideas and have a go.

Domestic Animals: Easy Drawing Ideas for Beginners

I grew up drawing our dog and cat. Poor Sooty, you had to work for your treats. It was a great way to learn. It was all from life, there was no other way in the ‘olden days’.

Nowadays you can take a photo and work from that but be careful how you take it. Get the right lens, use a 55mm lens or above. You don’t want any distortion. It doesn’t matter how good you are at copying, a dog with a giant nose and tiny legs is going to look wrong.

Cat drawing idea. Cat under a potted palm
Early drawing of a cat under a potted palm

If you haven’t got a pet go and find one. There are plenty of friendly cats around or go to the park and ask their owners if you can take a photo of their dog. They’ll be delighted and besides, if you want to get commissions, it’s a foot in the door.

  • Draw a pet cat
  • Draw a cats eye
  • Draw a dog Portrait
  • Draw a dog in action
  • Draw a wet nose
  • Draw a fish in a bowl
  • Draw a guinea pig
  • Draw a rabbit

Pets are easy subjects to find and domestic animals are not far behind. The public loves farm animals, at least they do here in the UK and every breed has its fans.

But if you want to get into the money and drum up commissions there is no better market than the horsey set. You need cash in your pocket to own a horse and their owners love them.

  • Draw a horses head
  • Draw a horse in profile
  • Draw a horse galloping
  • Draw ducks on a pond
  • Draw a cow

Wild Animals: Drawing Ideas and Tips

There’s no point suggesting that you head off into the wilds to find subjects, fun that it is, drawing local wildlife is more practical for beginners. If you have a garden, put out a feeder and let the wildlife come to you.

Further Reading: How to Plan a Wildlife Photography Trip

Drawing from home gives you the freedom to try sketching from life, something that in a public place might be intimidating.

Birds and squirrels are some of the easier subjects to find. If you haven’t got your own space, head to the park and feed the ducks and waterfowl.

Squirrel drawing idea by Kevin Hayler
‘Looking for Lunch’ by Kevin Hayler

If you take reference photos get down lower and take shots of the birds at eye level. Your shots will be more engaging.

  • Draw birds at a feeder
  • Draw a songbird singing
  • Draw a bird flying
  • Draw a swan
  • Draw a park squirrel

If you have access to a zoo or a wildlife park then you try your luck at drawing some exotic animals. Before you go find out:

  • What animal species they have,
  • If there are any new borns,
  • What kind of pens and enclosures they have,
  • What time they are fed.

Many artists use zoos and turn up unprepared and photograph animals half asleep or bored. Not only that, they draw animals that are obviously overweight and out of condition.

If you arrive BEFORE feeding time, the animals are alert and anticipating their food. This is the time that you need to be there to get those alert expressions.

If you want your subject to take notice, making sounds is ineffective, and intrusive. Try jangling keys. They think it’s the keeper just about to open the gate.

Further Reading: Where to Find Wildlife Subjects to Draw

Ideally, you need open-sided enclosures, without fencing and walkways that are on eye level. It might look great architecturally to have a raised platform and look down on an animal from above but compositionally it sucks.

Choose your preferred animals and hang about to get the best shots and bear in mind that some animals are harder to draw than others. Think about it, it’s a lot harder to draw a spotted or striped animal than it is a plain one.

Visiting an aquarium is another option. There is no other way you are going to get those underwater scenes without traveling abroad. Make sure you have a camera capable of taking pictures in very low light, flash photography won’t work.

  • Draw animals at the zoo
  • Draw in an aquarium
  • Draw a big cat
  • Draw a giraffe
  • Draw a primate
  • Draw a meerkat
  • Draw a penguin

Drawing Landscapes: Ideas and Inspiration

Endless subject matter and endless room for error. In many ways learning to draw landscapes is a way to build your confidence early on. Practice drawing trees, if you get that right the rest should be easy enough.

Try drawing in dark shapes for the tree foliage and lift out the texture with an eraser. There’s no need to draw in every leaf.

Further Reading: How to Draw a Forest Background

Use a blender for drawing clouds. Remember that sky is a gradation of tone, darker at the top and lighter at the horizon. Don’t be afraid to lay a dark tone for the sky, it adds drama.

  • Draw a background forest
  • Draw rocks and boulders
  • Draw clouds
  • Draw grass
  • Draw a single tree in leaf
  • Draw a winter tree
  • Draw a mountain background
  • Draw a snowscape
  • Draw a stormy sky
  • Draw distant rain clouds
  • Draw fluffy clouds
  • Draw fence posts

Drawing Water and Seascapes: More Ideas

Many artists freak out at the prospect of drawing water. There really is no need to get anxious. Drawing water is nowhere near as hard as you imagine.

Just imagine water as a series of layers. The base is only graduated tone and the rest is added in stages, one upon another. You draw the main shapes and lift out areas as you go. That’s the simplified explanation, but it’s essentially how you do it.

Further Reading: How to Draw Water

Start off with a few simpler tasks. Drawing reflections in still water is much easier than moving water. Most of us have a body of water nearby. It doesn’t have to be pretty, think of it as a drawing exercise. Draw the refections of bridges or buildings in a built environment.

  • Draw a lake
  • Draw a puddle
  • Draw a canal
  • Draw tree reflections
  • Draw a boat with reflections
  • Draw lillies with reflections
  • Draw a village pond
  • Draw a Slow River

Moving water is another challenge. In many ways, violent movement is easier to draw than gentle movement.

White water is very easy to draw with a battery eraser just by dotting the paper. Splashes and surf may look complex but you don’t have many rules to worry about. It’s the drawing equivalent to the icing on the cake, it’s the last step in the process.

It’s far harder to get ripples and refractions to look real. Not only do you have to pay attention to the way refections distort in moving water, but you also have surface glare confusing the rules. Nothing is quite what it seems.

If you can draw concentric circles in water to look real you’re really getting somewhere.

  • Draw a lapping wave
  • Draw a crashing wave
  • Draw a fast moving river
  • Draw pebbles in water
  • Draw a waterfall
  • Draw Ripples
  • Draw water droplets and circles

If drawing a body of water is a step too far for you at the moment, try incorporating water in another context. Draw water as snow or rain.

Draw winter landscapes as light greys with only the highlights as white. Experiment with falling snow. Lift the snowflakes with an eraser. Do the same with falling rain.

Rain usually falls at an angle. Draw the scene using diagonal hatching to imply rain. Rain often mutes the tone and decreases contrast. Alternatively, draw a distant storm cloud with streaks of rain falling from the base.

Another cool idea is to draw a still body of water and draw mist across the surface. You can use a kneadable eraser.

Here’s a tip you’ll find handy:

  • Scribble some pencil onto a scrap of paper
  • Roll your eraser into a ball and dab the graphite
  • Tap the ball onto clean paper and lose any excess graphite
  • Dab the eraser where you want to lighten the drawing.

Why go to this trouble? Well, a used eraser lifts graphite in a more subtle way. It allows you to dab the pencil without removing it too much. Great for misty water, steam. or clouds.

Clean putty erasers and Blu-Tak removes more graphite. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do. It’s good to know what’s possible.

If you live near the sea, draw the beach or the cliffs. Draw them in the landscape. Forget about close-ups, draw the vista and the sea in the distance

  • Draw a misty river
  • Draw a beach
  • Draw footprints in the sand
  • Draw snow on a tree
  • Draw rain
  • Draw some sea cliffs

Urban Sketching Ideas for Beginners

This is new jargon for me. When I was young it was just sketching a town or a cityscape. Whatever; it means drawing and sketching the built environment.

I’ve drawn many buildings in the past and although I don’t draw them very often these days, I’m well aware of how they teach you the rules of perspective. If the line is wrong you’ll notice it straight away.

It’s good practice to draw perspective lines and vanishing points and that does teach you the principles. That said when you are in the ‘field’, so to speak, there are multiple vanishing points and it’s never as simple as they say in the books.

  • Draw a shopping street
  • Draw a country cottage
  • Draw a townhouse
  • Draw a railway station
  • Draw a church
  • Draw a rainy high street

There is one rule of perspective and that’s to draw what you see. If you are viewing a sloping line you hold up a horizontal (usually your pencil) and assess the angle. If you cant do that you can buy a mini spirit level to help. In fact, why not stick a spirit level to an adjustable set square?

Try drawing a bridge and practice using one vanishing point. The challenge is to draw the curves in perspective.

  • Draw a stone bridge
  • Draw a suspension bridge
  • Draw a viaduct

Urban sketching is not only about buildings, it’s about people too. Go to where the people are gathering and sit down in a corner. Make notes and gesture drawings. You can take discreet photos of the general activity.

  • Draw a market scene
  • Draw an alfresco cafe
  • Draw buskers
  • Draw people in the park
  • Draw a funfair

Change Your Perspective For Fresh Ideas

You can spot someone who knows how to compose properly by the angles they adopt. Good compositions often have an extreme horizon line. Try getting down to ground level and see how it changes everything.

  • Draw lying on the ground
  • Draw from a cliff top
  • Draw from a viewpoint
  • Draw from under a bridge
  • Draw from a balcony

A few steps backward or forwards can make the difference between seeing a good composition and seeing nothing. Take time to figure out the most important elements and frame them in your eye.

And don’t feel compelled to draw exactly what you see. If something is in the way, ditch it, or move it to one side.

If the weather is bad, try sketching from the comfort of your car. I’ve done that many times in the past.

  • Draw from a window
  • Draw from the car

Visitor centers often overlook great views. There’s a wildfowl reserve near me with a cafe and seating that overlooks the lake. They also have bird hides dotted around the reserve.

Think outside the box. You are not always defeated by the weather, besides if nothing else you can always take photos for later.

Drawing Skills For Beginners

When time is short you can always practice your drawing skills. We all have weak points that make us struggle. Concentrate on those areas in dire need of improvement.

For me personally, drawing long black shiny fur is still daunting, even after all these years. I have to remind myself how to draw it every time. The following list will challenge you.

Moon bear drawing idea. Example of drawing shiny black fur
‘Rare Bear’ by Kevin hayler

Practice drawing fur, or hair, by drawing them in the direction of growth. Don’t draw parallel lines, make sure they cross each other at random. Add stray whisps of hair to add authenticity.

Alternatively, shade in hair, blend the lines, and build layers of tone. Then use an eraser to lift off the highlights.

  • Draw long black hair/fur
  • Draw white fur
  • Draw curly hair/fur
  • Draw hair and fur highlights with just an eraser

Many artists fail to draw eyes well. The most common problem is aligning the eyes properly. They are spaced wrong of one is higher than the other. If you are drawing a photo there is no reason to make that error.

Draw an image to scale and use proportional dividers, a compass, or even a ruler to measure the distances between the key points. Don’t draw detail straight away. Build slowly by roughly blocking in the shapes first.

Draw both eyes simultaneously, switch from one to the other if you can. It will help you with making adjustments as you go.

The brightest tone is usually the twinkle in the eye. Make sure that every other tone is grey, including the eyeball. Remember that the iris shines lighter on the opposite side of the eye highlight.

  • Draw the eyes wide-open
  • Draw the eyes asleep
  • Draw eyes looking to one side
  • Draw eyes from the side (in profile)

Let’s mention drawing shadows. Very few shadows are flat in tone. They are affected by reflected and bouncing light and the tones will vary. As a general rule, the shadow has more depth if you lighten the middle and darken the outer edges.

Further Reading: How to Draw Realistic Shadows in Pencil

Shadows are rarely sharp-edged. The border is soft. The further an object is away from its shadow, the softer the edge.

  • Draw shadows
  • Draw dappled shade
  • Draw reflected light within a shadow
  • Draw shadow over water

Do not ignore the background, it provides the context and frames your subject. A few well-placed lines or patches of tone can make a lifeless study come alive.

Practice your cross-hatching. Aim to draw lines roughly parallel and equidistant from each other. Don’t beat yourself up if you stray, but avoid scribbling, it rarely works. Repeating patterns work better.

Use your eraser to add ‘painterly’ flourishes and to add texture to dark areas.

Recreating the blurring effect of a camera’s depth-of-field will also present your subject in an interesting way. Practice blurring the background and foreground.

You can squint and make your eyes blurry or, if you’re older like me, you can look over the top of your glasses, but there is a modern shortcut you can try.

Tiger drawing by Kevin Hayler. Drawing idea creating depth-of-field effect
‘Tiger in the Grass’ by Kevin Hayler

Use the Gaussian blur tab in photoshop or any other reasonable photo editor (Pixlr is free) and blur the reference photo. That’ll help you to visualize the result.

  • Draw backgrounds with cross-hatching
  • Draw depth-of-field blur
  • Draw an object out-of-focus

There are a few more techniques worth practicing, one of the most important is drawing white lines.

Further Reading: How to Draw White Lines

You can try drawing around a white line but you’re inviting failure. The line will look awkward and clumsy. Instead, you should erase white lines.

There are two erasers that will work; a Tombo-Mono propelling eraser pen, and a battery-operated eraser pen, I use a cheapo by Jakar.

To use the Tombo effectively you need to sharpen the tip by slicing the end with a craft knife. The sharp edge will slice across the paper and make a line. It works most of the time. If you make a mistake you can draw over it and start again.

A battery eraser makes an even finer line, should you wish, and a cleaner one. It takes a steady hand and sometimes two or three attempts but once you have the knack, it is a game-changer.

otters playing drawing detail
Detail of otters playing

It works when you sharpen the eraser nib to a pinpoint as if it was a pencil. You will get through eraser nibs rapidly, but they are cheap to buy, so stock up with plenty of spares.

Battery erasers remove much darker tones than a standard eraser pen can. A Tombo will remove black but sometimes it leaves a light grey. A battery pen lifts the graphite much more cleanly.

You can repair any mistake

Drawing wrinkles and creases involves drawing gentle white lines and as such, they are useful exercises.

To draw a convincing wrinkle draw a mid-tone and draw a dark line through it. This is the darkest shadow. Now draw a light highlight along the edge. The ‘white’ line will be on the opposite side to the light source, so light coming from the left with appear to the right side of the line, and so forth.

  • Draw white lines
  • Draw wrinkles
  • Draw creases

Drawing Ideas in Nature for Beginners

We’ve covered land and seascapes and features within a landscape but how about drawing items found in nature?

Try drawing the delicacy of flower petals, a seashell, or the silky sheen on a feather. These things sound simple enough but it takes some skill to draw them well.

  • Draw a rose
  • Draw a feather
  • Draw a seashell

A walk in the woods can be inspirational. Instead of drawing trees, look around you and notice the smaller things.

Draw some leaves, you have a myriad of shapes to play with. Draw the texture of crusty bark, look for a hole in a tree and draw the knarled and twisted forms. Look in the leaf litter for mushrooms, ferns, nuts, and acorns.

There is a wealth of subject matter under your feet, speaking of which, look for tracks and pawprints in the mud and copy those.

  • Draw a pawprint
  • Draw a fern
  • Draw a mushroom
  • Draw a hole in a tree
  • Draw tree bark
  • Draw an acorn

Further Reading: 6 Tips to Draw Texture

And if you are still struggling to get excited, go back to drawing life. Draw your favorite insects buzzing around. Try drawing a butterfly, that’s tougher than you think. You have to draw it well enough for the lack of color not to matter, plus you have to get the symmetry right.

Alternatively, why not draw a bee, they’ve got to be the second favorite surely?

  • Draw a bee
  • Draw a butterfly

Drawing Exercises and Practice

Let’s finish this list with a few training exercises. Let’s start with learning to see in a different way. Drawing what you see and not what you know is the key to success. It’s not easy to make that adjustment, our heads are full of preconceived ideas and assumptions.

It is helpful to look at familiar subjects and draw them in counter-intuitive ways. Negative spaces are the spaces around and in between an object. For example, if you draw a mug, the negative space is the ‘D’ shape empty gap in the handle, not the handle itself.

Drawing the spaces in between helps you with drawing proportions and getting the perspective right. It’s vital to master this way of seeing.

Another way of training your mind is to draw an object upside-down. Your mind cannot process the image in a conventional way and sees it for what it is, and not blinded by what you expected to see.

When you flip over the drawing you’ll see how recognizable it is – or not.

Another ‘seeing’ exercise is to draw with an eraser. Essentially, you are blocking in shapes and deconstructing them. It is more akin to painting in many ways. it forces you to see the same object in a different way.

Kneadable eraser and Tombo-Mono eraser

You are drawing in reverse. Instead of building up, layer upon layer, and gradually constructing the form as you go, you are working the other way. You lift out the form from a solid base.

Erasers are used for drawing, every bit as much as they are for correcting errors. In that light, erasers can be used to liven up a stilted drawing and to add movement.

I use an eraser to break up lines in a drawing. Solid lines and hard edges are very static. Loose lines are more vibrant and intriguing to the eye and it’s possible to contrive that appearance using the ‘lost and found’ technique.

Further Reading: How to Make Your Drawings Interesting

If you erase and blur continuous lines or soften the area where two hard edges meet, you will make a simple line dynamic. The most boring subject can be made to move, it can be inanimate and still have movement.

Another way is to contrive motion blur in a similar way you might see in a photograph. Instead of drawing the motion sharp in focus, you can imply it with a few chosen lines and let it fade to nothing, or deliberately smudge the form and leave it undefined.

  • Drawing negative spaces
  • Draw something upside down or in reverse
  • Drawing with an eraser
  • Draw movement

Drawing from life helps you to distill your visual interpretations into the simplest forms. There is no time to worry about the detail, especially for moving objects. It’s drawing shorthand.

Learn to draw faster and looser and practice drawing using the least amount of line to convey the maximum information. Less is more, as they say, and it’s a skill that I make no claim to master.

Further Reading: How to Draw Faster

Draw simple outlines, as thumbnails if you lack confidence. Move from one idea to another and don’t worry about finishing things. Follow the movement, light, and composition. When one idea fades, move on to the next one and keep it rolling.

These are sketch notes, don’t worry about how great they are, they are seed ideas. If all they do is spark an idea to use later on they’re doing their job.

Try drawing without lifting your pencil. The purpose is to learn from your mistakes. You have no option but to retain those erroneous stray lines to order to find the correct ones. Your drawing will be a pattern of lines and squiggles and somewhere within the true line is tucked away.

Stand back at the end and determine the best lines and bold them.

  • Draw faster
  • Make rapid thumbnail compositions
  • Draw without lifting your pencil
  • Sketch a simple outline

Have you tried drawing on tinted paper? Choose a mid-grey paper and use a white pencil for the highlights. You will have to use the white sparingly, it’s only for the lightest areas. The paper itself is the mid-tone.

It’s also a good idea to practice your blending techniques. The most useful tool is a paper blending stump. Careful use will produce transitions that are very hard to achieve using pencils alone. Often the best blending is done with a used blender, not always a clean one.

You can also use a soft brush to blend the pencil. I’ve seen artists in the Far East use this technique, albeit using charcoal powder, with photographic results.

Finally, for a more technical approach, you can draw using a grid to get precision results. I use this method to draw hyperrealistic drawings. It is by no means essential, I use it to play safe because I draw commercially.

Further Reading: How to Scale Up a Drawing

You can use it to learn about spaces. Think of each box as a drawing in its own right. Draw the contents of each box and the big picture gradually appears. It’s like a puzzle.

It’s not without its drawbacks. You can be so involved in each box that you lose track of the whole, and end up with a mish-mash of wildly different tones throughout the image. You have to step back regularly to stop yourself from going off track.

A better way to learn is to draw a very large grid and use dividers to measure and plot the key points accurately. This is a halfway house between freehand and mechanical drawing. It’s good for your confidence.

  • Draw on a tinted paper
  • Practice blending with a paper stump
  • Grid a photo and copy it

Conclusion

That’s 120 drawing ideas for beginners, more than enough to keep you happy. I’m sure you’ll find some of them helpful.

I’ve tried to write something about most of my drawing ideas to guide you into my way of thinking. I suggest you start with the ideas you find easier and progress from there.

It’s so important to have early successes to stay motivated.

Go for it.



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